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Problems with dairy products may be lactose intolerance

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Some people have trouble drinking milk and digesting dairy products. The condition is known as lactose intolerance. Being lactose intolerant means you cannot digest lactose -- the natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

People who cannot digest lactose have a shortage of an enzyme called lactase, which is produced in the small intestine. Lactase breaks down milk sugar into two simpler forms of sugar, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.

Lactose tolerance is not the same as a milk allergy, according to Kavita Dada, of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For most people with lactase deficiency, it's a discomfort. But a food allergy -- an abnormal response to a food triggered by the immune system -- can be life-threatening. People with food allergies must avoid certain foods altogether. People with food intolerances can often consume small amounts of the offending foods without having symptoms.

When there is not enough lactase to digest the lactose in the foods a person eats or drinks, the person may have gas, stomach cramps, bloating, nausea and diarrhea. These symptoms occur within 30 minutes to two hours after consuming food containing lactose.

Some illnesses can cause these same problems, but a health care professional can do tests to see if the problems are caused by lactose intolerance or by another condition.

As people age, their bodies produce fewer lactase enzymes, so most people don't have symptoms until they are adults. Many people inherit the condition from their parents. Lactose intolerance is not very common in children under 2 years of age, unless the child has a lactase deficiency because of an injury to the small intestine.

There is no treatment to make the body produce more lactase enzyme, but the symptoms of lactose intolerance can be controlled through diet.

Lactose is found in dairy foods such as milk (including evaporated and condensed), sour cream, ice cream, sherbet, yogurt, some cheeses, and butters.

Lactose may also be added to some canned, frozen, boxed, and other prepared foods such as breads, cereals, mixes (cake, cookie, pancake, biscuit), instant potatoes, soups, lunch meats, salad dressings, margarines, and candies.

Beware of foods labeled "non-dairy," such as powdered coffee creamers and whipped toppings. Some of them may contain an ingredient called caseinate, which comes from milk and contains lactose.

People have different levels of tolerance to lactose. If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk available in the grocery store, or try dairy products lower in lactose, such as yogurt and cheese. You may be able to consume dairy products in small amounts without symptoms.

Try consuming milk or other dairy products with a meal or a snack, rather than alone. The mix of foods slows down digestion, making it easier for your body to digest lactose.

The lactase enzyme, available in tablets or in drops, is available to add to fluid milk before drinking it. Or, try a lactase supplement to chew or swallow before eating lactose-rich foods. These products are available over the counter.

If you're eating few or no dairy products, ask your doctor if you are getting enough calcium in your diet. You may need to take dietary supplements with calcium to keep bones healthy.

Introducing new columnists.

As of July 1, Bourbon County Extension Council will be joining the Southwind Extension District which includes Allen and Neosho counties.

The closer working relationship between counties and staffs will result in more efficient use of resources, more specialization of agents, and improved programming. Family and consumer science agents in the three counties will be sharing columns in local newspapers.

My colleagues, Tara Solomon, Neosho County, and Kathy McEwan, Allen County, will be writing some of these weekly columns. I know you'll find their columns to be informative and educational.

Ann Ludlum
FCS Agent, Southwind District
Editor's Note: Ann Ludlum is a K-State Research and Extension family and consumer sciences and 4-H extension agent assigned to Southwind District -- Fort Scott office. She may be reached at (620) 223-3720 or aludlum@ksu.edu.